Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Mountain of Silence: On Logismoi

"'Logismoi are much more intense than simple thoughts.  They penetrate into the very depths of a human being.  They have enormous power.  Let us say,' Fr. Maximos went on to clarify, 'that a simple thought is a weak logismos.  We need to realize, however, that certain thoughts, or logismoi, once inside a human being, can undermine every trace of a spiritual life in its very foundation.  People who live in the world don't know about the nature and power of logismoi.  That is, they don't have the experience of that reality.  But as they proceed on their spiritual struggle, particularly through systematic prayer, then are they able to understand the true meaning and power of this reality'" (118).

"'I have noticed that some people, particularly young, oversensitive souls,' Fr. Maximos said, breaking the silence, 'suffer so much from these logismoi that it often leads them into psychopathological conditions.  They reach such states partly because of their ignorance of the nature of logismoi.  Such persons who may be attacked by a perverted, or let us say a sinful logismos, are unable to realize that such a logismos does not necessarily emanate from within themselves, but is directed toward them from the outside.  They feel guilty and begin what the late Paisios used to call the 'the repetition of those whys.'  They become obsessive.  Oversensitive persons become even more sensitive and blame themselves with all kinds of questions: "Why do I have such a thought, why?"  Such people are in dire need of proper instruction on how to handle the logismoi,' Fr. Maximos pointed out.  He went on to say that the most dangerous logismoi are those sent by demonic spirits that get support and get activated by our own passions.  Logismoi coming from demons are extremely devious and duplicitous" (120).

For more on logismoi, including the stages of their development (assault, interaction, consent, captivity, and passion) and strategies for mastering them, see Chapter 9 on "Invisible Intruders" and Chapter 10 on "Strategies" in The Mountain of Silence.

Source:  Markides, Kyriacos C.  The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality.  New York, NY: Doubleday, 2001.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

St. Athanasius: Why the Son became a Human Being

Add caption
"Some may then ask, why did He not manifest Himself by means of other and nobler parts of creation, and use some nobler instrument, such as sun or moon or stars or fire or air, instead of mere man?  The answer is this.  The Lord did not come to make a display.  He came to heal and to teach suffering men.  For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholder.  But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who need Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it."  

     - St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation(Crestwood, NY: SVS Press), 1998), 78.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Entrance of the Theotokos

On November 21st of every year, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple.  The Feast commemorates the entrance of the Virgin Mary into the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem when she was three years of age.  Having been dedicated to God by her aged parents, Joachim and Anna, she remained in the Temple until she reached womanhood and was betrothed to the elderly widower, Joseph, who protected the Virgin chosen to be the Mother of God.  In a beautiful sermon, St. Gregory Palamas sets forth the Virgin Mary as an example of a healthy soul who attained to the heights of the spiritual life.  Here is an excerpt from that sermon:

"With profound understanding she listened to the writings of Moses and the revelations of the other prophets when, every Saturday, all the people gathered outside, as the Law ordained.  She learnt about Adam and Eve and everything that happened to them: how they were brought out of non-being, settled in paradise and given a commandment there; about the evil one's ruinous counsel and the resulting theft; about their expulsion from paradise on that account, the loss of immortality and the change to this way of life full of pain.  In addition, she saw that as time passed, life continued under the inherited curse and grew even worse, God's creature made in His image was estranged from the Creator and became more and more closely associated with the one who had evilly schemed to crush him.  (Alas for the evil one's power over us and his insatiable rage against us!  Woe to our insensitivity and our inclination to return to the earth!)  No one was capable of putting an end to this impulse which brings destruction on all men alike, or to the uncheckable rush of our race towards hell.  When the holy Virgin Maid heard and understood this, she was filled with pity for humanity and, with the aim of finding a remedy to counteract this great affliction, she resolved at once to turn with her whole mind to God.  She took it upon herself to represent us, to constrain Him Who is above compulsion, and quickly draw Him towards us, that He might remove the curse from among us, halt the advance of the fire burning men's souls, weaken our enemies, answer our prayers, shine upon us with light that never sets and, having healed our sickness, unite His creatures with Himself."

I highly recommend that Orthodox Christians read the sermon in its entirety for their edification.

St. Gregory Palamas, "On the Entrance into the Holy of Holies II," Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, ed. by Christopher Veniamin (South Canaan, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2005), 41.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

St. Athanasius on Christ the Physician

"What man that ever was, for instance, formed a body for himself from a virgin only?  Or what man ever healed so many diseases as the common Lord of all?  Who restored that which was lacking in man's nature or made one blind from birth to see?  Aesculapius was deified by the Greeks because he practiced the art of healing and discovered herbs as remedies for bodily diseases, not, of course, forming them himself out of the earth, but finding them out by the study of nature.  But what is that in comparison to what the Saviour did when, instead of just healing a wound, He both fashioned essential being and restored to health the thing that He had formed?" 

- St. Athanasius the Great, "Refutation of the Gentiles," On the Incarnation (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press), 1998), 87.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Orthodox University

The September 2011 edition of The Word, a publication of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, includes an article on Orthodox higher education by His Grace Bishop THOMAS of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.  Both the establishment of Orthodox schools and the establishment of Orthodox medical facilities involve forming a truly Orthodox institution that exists within the Mystery of the Church and that operates according the Orthodox ethos as an oasis in a secular culture.  I highly recommend the article, "An Orthodox University: Higher Education for Orthodox Christians," which begins on page 26 of the magazine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

David Berlinski on the Limitation of Science

“A great many men and women have a dull, hurt, angry sense of being oppressed by the sciences. They are frustrated by endless scientific boasting. They suspect that the scientific community holds them in contempt. They are right to feel this way.”  - The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski

David Berlinski is not an Orthodox Christian.  He is not an advocate for any religion, but addresses the proper limitation of science and the contemporary failure of scientists to recognize the limitation of science and to make the proper distinction between science and the philosophy of science.

Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions

A rough transcript of the above interview is available as a pdf file here on the website of the Hoover Institution.

Self-Critical Science and Other Myths

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Way True Love Heals You

Orthodox Christianity is not ultimately about history, comparative religion, written doctrine, and external practices.  The Orthodox Way is about internal prayer and personal healing through prayer.  It is not an academic path, but a practical one.  It is about the experience of God and personal transformation through that experience.  Human religion based on imagination and opinions don't make you a better person (and can make you a lot worse), but true religion - the spiritual Way - leads to the fullness of Life.  God does the work in us if we are willing to cooperate.  

Attending a class is not going to change you, but learning about the richness of the spiritual treasure very well may be life-changing.  If you take hold the treasure before you, then you will most certainly be on the healing Way.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

St. Syncletica on Illness & Joy

St. Syncletica of Alexandria is one of the holy Desert Mothers of the 4th century.  (She is often referred to as Mother, or "Amma" Syncletica).   You can read about her life on the website of the Antiochian Archdiocese.  Here is one of her sayings:

"She also said, 'If illness weighs us down, let us not be sorrowful as though, because of illness and the prostration of our bodies we could not sing, for all these things are for our good, for the purification of our desires.  Truly fasting and sleeping on the ground are set before us because of our sensuality.  If illness then weakens this sensuality the reason for these practices is superfluous.  For this is the great asceticism: to control oneself in illness and to sing hymns of thanksgiving to God.'"

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. by Benedicta Ward (Trappist, KY: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 232.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Notes on Helping Those With Same-Sex Temptations

Homosexuality and associated issues, like same-sex marriage, appear to have gained much acceptance within our society in recent years. Orthodox Christian healthcare providers can benefit from knowing how "homosexuality" is understood within the Church and how it has been dramatically redefined in our secular pagan culture.

1.  Homosexuality is a behavior, not a feeling or orientation.  Therefore, one is not a "homosexual" until one chooses, according to free will, to do something that is contrary to human nature and that is in disharmony with the Way that leads to the healing and perfection of the human person.  Of course, a person can commit a sin in the mind by willing to act before the full action is carried out, but sexual temptation, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, is not sin when the tempting thought is dismissed and rejected.  Therefore, a "homosexual" is not one who feels same-sex attraction, but one commits a sexual sin with a person of the same sex.  This is similarly true for adultery.  An "adulterer" is one who commits adultery, not one who feels attracted to those other than his or her spouse if he or she dismisses the temptation and remains steadfastly faithful to the spouse.  No matter what form of temptation, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, one may face, we are called to treat our bodies as holy temples and only express the beautiful gift of sexual expression within the context of marriage, a union between a man and woman.  So, we are all called to chastity - celibacy outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, whatever our place in life.

In our secular society, "homosexuality" has been redefined, not as a behavior contrary to good spiritual, mental, and physical health, but as an "orientation" central to a person's identity.   

2.  Accepting homosexual behavior as good and acceptable is not an act of love and compassion.  If someone is suffering from anorexia, for the good health of the person, we must be honest about her condition and help her heal from her illness.  We do not help her by telling her that we affirm her in her eating disorder, but rather, motivated by love, we should gently help her understand that she is truly sick and needs healing.  We do not help the sick by reinforcing their delusions about themselves, their relationships, and their lifestyle choices.  If a man believes he is a cat, his friends do not help him by conforming to his demands that they always dress like cats and eat from a common bowl in the floor when they visit his apartment, even at the expense of being called prejudiced Ailurophobes (those fearful of cats).  We are not "open and affirming" with regard to sin, because sin creates wounds in the soul that affects the whole person.  Rather, we love the person and do our best to care for him or her compassionately to aid in healing.

Since homosexuality is misunderstood in our society as an orientation, perhaps assigned before birth, those who rightly identify homosexual acts as sinful may be accused of judgmentalism and hate speech.

3.  Answers to questions about the Orthodox view of homosexuality best begin at the beginning.  If a secular person asks, "What does the Orthodox Church teach about homosexuality," we should realize that the one asking the questions may be thoroughly indoctrinated into a secular pagan vision of homosexuality.  Such a question is best answered, if we are given the time, not with a simple position statement, but with an expression of God's love for man, our creation according to the Divine Image, our fall away from God into spiritual sickness (including the darkening of the heart, confusion of the mind, and choas of the passions), and the spiritual Way that leads to the transformation of the passions, healing of the soul, and the full experience of Life.  We should help those who are willing to learn, who "have ears to hear,"

* to percieve the difference between what is natural (for a healed human person) and what only seems  natural (in our sickness and deluded state),
* to realize the fact that we are all "born this way" with regard to sickness and death, although our common spiritual illness is manifested in different people in different ways,
* to know that we are all called to rise above living like animals (driven by passions) to live as true human beings with perfect love (guided by the Spirit),
* to distinguish between the temptation of same-sex attraction and the sin of homosexuality, and
* to find the Way of Christ within the hospital of the Church, wherein the refreshing Medicine of Divine Grace flows abundantly.

Above all, let us show genuine love and compassion for our fellow human beings.  Without humility, we can help no one, including ourselves.

* Note: The Trojan Horse picture has been chosen to represent secular paganism.  Secular teachings can unknowingly be received and accepted if one does not know the Orthodox Faith, does not seek spiritual knowledge of the heart through prayer, and is not vigilant.  

Fr. Symeon

Orthodox Psychiatrist Discusses Homosexuality

An article, "Shifts in Paradigms: An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Homosexuality," essentially an interview with Dr. Lynne Pappas, is available on the American Orthodox Institute website.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prayer for One Who Has Shameful Thoughts

A Prayer for One Who Has Shameful Thoughts

O Master, Lord my God, in whose hands is my destinty: help me according to Thy mercy, and leave me not to perish in my transgressions, nor allow me to follow them that place desires of the flesh over those of the spirit.  I am Thy creation; disdain not the work of Thy hands.  Turn not away, be compassionate and humiliate me not, neither scorn me, O Lord, as I am weak.  I have fled unto Thee as my Protector and God.  Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee; save me for Thy mercy's sake, for I have cleaved unto Thee from my youth; let me who seek Thee not be put to shame by being rejected by Thee for unclean actions, unseemly thoughts, and unprofitable remembrances.  Drive away from me every filthy thing and excess of evil.  For Thou alone art holy, alone mighty, and alone immortal, in all things having unexcelled might, which, through Thee, are given to all that strive against the devil and the might of his armies.
     For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

From The Great Book of Needs, Vol. 3 (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Monastery, 2002), 47.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

St. Luke the Surgeon on Science and Religion

St. Luke of Simferpol and Crimea served as a bishop, scientist, medical doctor, surgeon, professor of medicine, and author.  His Notes on Purulent Surgery, first published in 1934, may be considered his most significant literary contribution to the surgical arts.  You can read about the life of St. Luke, called "the Blessed Surgeon," on the Full of Grace and Truth blog.  Information is also available on Orthodoxwiki.  The book, The Blessed Surgeon (2nd edition), provides a relatively detailed account of his life.

In an article on "Science and Religion," St. Luke commented on the relationship between science and Orthodox spirituality, true religion. The words of the Blessed Surgeon are relevant today for Orthodox Christians who work in scientific, academic, and/or medical environments steeped in secularism, wherein there is much ignorance regarding the limitation of science and the distinction between scientific knowledge of the rational mind and the theological knowledge of the heart.

St. Luke wrote, 

"We are certain that apart from the material world there is an infinite and incomparably superior spiritual world. We believe in the existence of spiritual beings that have higher intellect than us humans. We believe wholeheartedly that above this spiritual and material world there is the Great and Almighty God.

What we doubt is the right of science to research with its methods the spiritual world. Because the spiritual world cannot be researched with the methods used to research the material world. Such methods are totally inappropriate to research the spiritual world.

How do we know that there is a spiritual world? Who told us that it exists? If we are asked by people who do not believe in the Divine revelation, we shall answer them thus: 'Our heart told us'. For there are two ways for one to know something, the first is that which is spoken by Haeckel, which is used by science to learn of the material world. There is however another way that is unknown to science, and does not wish to know it. It is the knowledge through the heart. Our heart is not only the central organ of the circulation system, it is an organ with which we know the other world and receive the highest knowledge. It is the organ that gives us the capability to communicate with God and the above world. Only in this we disagree with science.

Praising the great successes and achievements of science, we do not doubt at all its great importance and we do not confine the scientific knowledge. We only tell the scientists "You do not have the capability with your methods to research the spiritual world, we however can with our heart.

There are many unexplainable phenomena which concern the spiritual world that are real (as are some type of material phenomena). There are therefore phenomena that science will never be able to explain because it does not use the appropriate methods.

Let science explain how the prophecies appeared on the coming of the Messiah, which were all fulfilled. Could science tell us how the great prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, foretold the most important events in His life and for which he was named the evangelist of the Old Testament? To explain the far sighted grace possessed by the saints and to tell us with which physical methods the saints inherited this grace and how they could understand the heart and read the thoughts of a person they had just met for the first time? They would see a person for the first time and they will call him by his name. Without waiting for the visitor to ask, they would answer on what troubled him.

If they can, let them explain it to us. Let them explain with what method the saints foretold the great historical events which were accurately fulfilled as they were prophesied. Let them explain the visitation from the other world and the appearance of the dead to the living.

They shall never explain it to us because they are too far from the basis of religion- from faith. If you read the books of the scientists who try to reconstruct religion, you will see how superficially they look at things. They do not understand the essence of religion yet they criticize it. Their criticism does not touch the essence of faith, since they are unable to understand the types, the expressions of religious feeling. The essence of religion they do not understand. Why not? Because the Lord Jesus Christ says 'No one can come to me unless My Father who sent Me draws him to Me.' (John 6:44)

So it is necessary that we be drawn by the Heavenly Father, it is necessary that the grace of the Holy Spirit enlighten our heart and our mind. To dwell in our heart and mind through this enlightenment, the Holy Spirit and the ones who were found worthy to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, those in whose heart lives Christ and His Father, know the essence of faith. The others, outside the faith cannot understand anything."

Source of quote here.  The image is from Orthodoxwiki.  This icon was authored by Father Daniel from the Holy Hesychastirio of Daniel the Katounakian, Mount Athos and is kept at the Holy Church of St. Paraskevi, Koropi, Attica of Greece.  Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Prayer of Healing for the Soul

Make me whole, O Lord, and I will become whole!  On only wise and merciful Physician, I beseech Thy benevolence: heal the wounds of my soul and enlighten the eyes of my mind that I may understand my place in Thine eternal design!  And inasmuch as my heart and mind have been disfigured, may Thy grace repair them, for it is as true salt.
     What shall I say to Thee, O Knower of the heart who searchest the heart and inner workings of men?  Indeed, Thou knowest that, like a waterless land, my soul thirsts after Thee and my heart longs for Thee.  And Thy grace has always sated those that love Thee.
     Thus, as Thou has always heard me, so now do not scorn my prayer.  For Thou seest that my mind, like a prisoner, seeks Thee, the Only true Savior.
     Send Thy grace, that it may satisfy my hunger and quench my thirst.  For insatiably do I desire Thee, O my Master!  And who can have enough of Thee if he truly loves Thee and thirsts for Thy truth?
     O Giver of light!  Fulfill my supplications and grant me Thy gifts according to my prayer; impart to my heart just one drop of Thy grace, that the flame of Thy love may begin to burn in my heart; and, like a fire, may it consume evil thoughts like thorns and thistles!
     Give me all this in abundance; grant it to me as God unto man, as the King to His subjects, and increase it as a kind Father.

- A prayer by St. Ephraim the Syrian

Psalm 3 in A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God, Excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse from the Works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian Arranged in the Manner of the Psalms of David, trans. by Antonia Janda, (Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press, 2004), 17.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dr. Engelhardt: Orthodox Christian Bioethics

"The Search for Global Morality: 
Bioethics, Moral Diversity, and the Collapse of Consensus"

(This presentation is from the University of Chicago's 28th Annual Interdisciplinary Faculty Seminar Series: Global Health and Medical Ethics.)         

Also, A video of a presentation on "Moral Pluralism and the Crisis of Secular Bioethics: Why Orthodox Christian Bioethics has the Solution" is available on the website of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (Cambridge, England).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos

The Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos is a supplicatory service chanted in Orthodox churches to honor the Theotokos and ask for her intercessions on behalf of the living.  The service is chanted during the Dormition Fast in August and may be chanted at other times as needed. The text of the Small Paraklesis, authored by Theosterictus the Monk in the 9th century, is available on the Greek Archdiocese of America website. More information on the Paraklesis is published on Orthodoxwiki.

Here is a selection from the service (Ode 6):

"I pour out my supplication before the Lord, and I speak of my sorrows before Him.  For my soul has been filled with evils, and my life has approached Hades.  Wherefore, I supplicate Thee like Jonah, crying out: 'Raise me up from corruption, O my God.'

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Intercede with thy Son and God, O Virgin, who by delivering Himself to death, He saved from death and corruption, our nature overtaken by death and corruption, that He may deliver me from the evil harm of the enemies.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

We have known thee to be an intercessor for our lives, a sound protection, a remover of different trespasses, and a vanquisher of the wiles of demons, O Virgin.  Wherefore, we beseech thee ceaselessly, to deliver us from the corruption of our passions.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!

We have possessed thee as a wall of refuge, O Maiden, and as a complete salvation for our souls, and a comfort from distress.  We always rejoice in thy light.  Wherefore deliver us now, O Lady, from passions and sufferings.

Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen!

Since we lie now on the bed of infirmities, and there is no healing for our bodies. O thou who didst give birth to God, the Savior of the world, and Remover of sicknesses, we beseech thee, O righteous one, to raise us from the corruption of ills."

(The above selection from the Paraklesis service (Ode 6) has been taken from the translation used in our parish.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

St. Ephraim the Syrian: Healing Tears of Repentance

Psalm 74

"Who will cure my soul if not Thou, O Christ, the only Physician of souls!  Where will I find a remedy for the disease of my soul, if not with Thee, O fountain of healing!  Thou Who dist cure the ailing woman, cure also my soul from the ruin of sin.
     May Thy compassion descend on me and help me to overthrow the enemy.  Fortify me who am infirm by the strength of Thine arm, and the Evil One will be ashamed when he sees that I am prepared for battle.  Animate me and the Evil One will be humiliated.  In shame will he be turned back, and I will glorify Thy name.
     Accept the tears of my wretchedness and blot out the record of my debts, and again will the enemy be ashamed, seeing that Thy loving-kindness has destroyed the fruit of his wicked deeds and that I will not be punished.
     May Thy compassion come to mine aid, that I might pass safely through the realm of temptation, and that I might thereafter be close to Thee, with Thee always.
     My sinful soul will glorify Thee and Thy Father and the Holy Spirit, for she has wept and been heard, and, washed with tears of repentance, she has been made a temple inhabited by the Divinity Which has created the world."

Psalm 112

"O Giver of all good things, O fountain of healing and treasure of compassion, Thou only good and kindhearted God, Who ever grantest good things to those who ask!  I beseech Thee, that Thine abundant grace might descend upon me and gather together my mind and heal my hidden sores anew, for distractions and wandering thoughts constantly renew my secret sores.
     O long-suffering Lord Who ever curest with grace and compassion, heal the great spiritual infirmities that are within me, a sinner!
     I have nothing to give Thee, O Master, in return for Thy cures.  And what price could be put on Thy cures?  Neither heaven nor earth can give a reward worthy of them.  It is impossible to purchase these holy heavenly cures, for they are priceless.  Thou givest them only in return for tears, O our Savior; and in return for bitter weeping dost Thou grant them to all.
     O my Master, grant me who am unworthy daily tears and strength, that my heart, enraptured and streaming forth fountains of tears, might be ceaselessly illuminated by pure prayer, and that a few tears might blot out the weighty record of my sins, and a small measure of weeping might extinguish the fire that burns therein.  For if I weep here, there will I be delivered from inextinguishable fire."

*Note: The shedding of tears does not refer to just crying due to emotional sadness, but the shedding of tears due to sorrow for one's sins, true humility, and genuine repentance (a sincere desire to turn away from sin that brings sickness and to turn toward God, Who heals.) One who prays with this disposition invites the transforming, Life-Giving Divine Grace into his heart.     

A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God, Excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse from the Works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian Arranged in the Manner of the Psalms of David, trans. by Antonia Janda (Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press, 2004), 127-128, 179180.

The icon shows St. George, St. John of Damascus, and St. Ephrem the Syrian

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Prayerfully Giving Thanks in All Situations

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (Thess. 5.16-18).  As Orthodox Christians we are indeed called to always give thanks to God through prayer in all situations, even in difficult situations.  We are not near-sighted, but see our present position in terms of our future destination.  With this attitude, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8.18).

In one of his homilies, St. John Chrysostom includes a prayer of thanksgiving for all things said by "a certain holy man." We may also use this prayer to express our thankfulness to God whatever the situation:

“I know a certain holy man who prayeth thus. He used to say nothing before these words, but thus,

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits bestowed upon us the unworthy, from the first day until the present, for what we know, and what we know not, for the seen, for the unseen, for those in deed, those in word, those with our wills, those against our wills, for all that have been bestowed upon the unworthy, even us; for tribulations, for refreshments, for hell, for punishment, for the kingdom of heaven. We beseech Thee to keep our soul holy, having a pure conscience; an end worthy of thy lovingkindness. Thou that lovedst us so as to give Thy Only-Begotten for us, grant us to become worthy of Thy love; give us wisdom in Thy word, and in Thy fear. Only-Begotten Christ, inspire the strength that is from Thee. Thou that gavest The Only-Begotten for us, and hast sent Thy Holy Spirit for the remission of our sins, if in aught we have wilfully or unwillingly transgressed, pardon, and impute it not. Remember all that call upon Thy Name in truth; remember all that wish us well, or the contrary, for we are all men.

Then having added the Prayer of the Faithful, he there ended; having made that prayer, as a certain crowning part, and a binding together for all. For many benefits doth God bestow upon us even against our wills; many also, yea more, without our knowledge even. For when we pray for one thing, and He doeth to us the reverse, it is plain that He doeth us good even when we know it not.”

* Note: The prayer of the faithful mentioned above is presumably the Lord’s Prayer.

St. John Chrysostom, Homily beginning with Colossians 3.18-25 (Homily X), Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon NPNF, Vol. 13.  Online here:

Monday, July 25, 2011

St. John Chrysostom: Therapy within the Church

 "I account you happy for the zeal, beloved, with which you flock into the Father's house. For from this zeal I have ground for feeling confidence about your health also with respect to the soul; for indeed the school of the Church is an admirable surgery--a surgery, not for bodies, but for souls. For it is spiritual, and sets right, not fleshly wounds, but errors of the mind, and of these errors and wounds the medicine is the word. This medicine is compounded, not from the herbs growing on the earth, but from the words proceeding from heaven--this no hands of physicians, but tongues of preachers have dispensed. On this account it lasts right through; and neither is its virtue impaired by length of time, nor defeated by any strength of diseases. For certainly the medicines of physicians have both these defects; for while they are fresh they display their proper strength, but when much time has passed; just as those bodies which have grown old; they become weaker; and often too the difficult character of maladies is wont to baffle them; since they are but human. Whereas the divine medicine is not such as this; but after much time has intervened, it still retains all its inherent virtue. Ever since at least Moses was born (for from thence dates the beginning of the Scripture) it has healed so many human beings; and not only has it not lost its proper power, but neither has any disease ever yet overcome it.

This medicine it is not possible to get by payment of silver; but he who has displayed sincerity of purpose and disposition goes his way having it all. On account of this both rich and poor alike obtain the benefit of this healing process. For where there is a necessity to pay down money the man of large means indeed shares the benefit; but the poor man often has to go away deprived of the gain, since his income does not suffice him for the making up of the medicine. But in this case, since it is not possible to pay down silver coin, but it is needful to display faith and a good purpose, he who has paid down these with forwardness of mind, this is he who most reaps the advantage; since indeed these are the price paid for the medicinal treatment. And the rich and the poor man share the benefit alike; or rather it is not alike that they share the benefit, but often the poor man goes away in the enjoyment of more. What ever can be the reason? It is because the rich man, possessed beforehand by many thoughts, having the pride and puffed-up temper belonging to wealthiness; living with carelessness and lazy ease as companions, receives the medicine of the hearing of the Scriptures not with much attention, nor with much earnestness; but the poor man, far removed from delicate living and gluttony and indolence; spending all his time in handicraft and honest labours; and gathering hence much love of wisdom for the soul; becomes thereby more attentive and free from slackness, and is wont to give his mind with more accurate care to all that is said: whence also, inasmuch as the price he has paid is higher, the benefit which he departs having reaped is greater."

St. John Chrysostom, "Homily Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren," NPNF, 1st Series, Vol. 9, St. John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes.  Available on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Discussion with Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr:

Dr. Engelhardt, MD, PhD, is one of the top bioethicists in the world.  He is the author of The Foundations of Christian Bioethics and Senior Editor of Christian Bioethics journal (Oxford University Press). In a video of a discussion that took place at St. Luke's Orthodox Cathedral in Hong Kong, Dr. Engelhardt talks about the Orthodox Christian practice of medicine and bioethics.  In the video, he mentions "Question 55" of St. Basil the Great's Long Rules, which I previously posted.

This video can also be found on Youtube.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fighting Evil Thoughts: Humility & Prayer

"Evil thoughts afflict the proud soul, and until she humbles herself she knows no rest from them.  When wrong thoughts besiege you, call like Adam upon God, saying, ‘O Lord, my Maker and Creator, Thou seest how my soul is vexed with bad thoughts…Have mercy on me.’ And when you stand before the face of the Master, steadfastly remember that He will give ear to all your supplications if they be for your good.

A cloud blows over and hides the sun, making everything dark.  In the same way, one prideful thought causes the soul to lose grace, and she is left in darkness.  But, equally, a single impulse of humility – and grace returns.  This I have experienced and proved in myself” (441).

“It is very difficult to recognize pride in oneself.  But here are some signs to tell you:  if the enemy (devils) assail you, or wrong thoughts torment you, it means that humility is lacking in you, and so even if you do not realize the presence of pride in you – humble yourself” (447).  
- St. Silouan the Athonite

Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, trans. by Rosemary Edmonds, Chapter 17, “Concerning Intrusive Thoughts and Delusions,” (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991).

+     +     +

A Prayer for One Who Has Shameful Thoughts

O Master, Lord my God, in whose hands is my destiny: help me according to Thy mercy, and leave me not to perish in my transgressions, nor allow me to follow them that place desires of the flesh over those of the spirit.  I am thy creation, disdain not the work of Thy hands.  Turn not away, be compassionate and humiliate me not, neither scorn me, O Lord, as I am weak.  I have fled unto Thee as my Protector and God.  Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee; save me for They mercy's sake, for I have cleaved unto Thee from my youth; let me who seek Thee not be put to shame by being rejected by Thee for unclean actions, unseemly thoughts, and unprofitable remembrances.   Drive away from me every filthy thing and excess of evil.  For Thou alone art holy, alone mighty, and alone immortal, in all things having unexcelled might, which, through Thee, are given to all that strive against the devil and the might of his armies.  For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

The Great Book of Needs, Volume 3, trans. by St. Tikhon's Monastery (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002), 47.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

St. Basil the Great on the Art of Medicine

Selections from St. Basil regarding "Whether recourse to the medical art is in keeping with the practice of piety."

"In as much as our body is susceptible to various hurts, some attacking from without and some from within by reason of the food we eat, and since the body suffers affliction from both excess and eficiency, the medical art has been vouchsafed us by God, who directs our whole life, as a model for the cure of the soul, to guide us in the removal of what is superfluous and in the addition of what is lacking. Just as we would have no need of the farmer's labor and toil if we were living amid the delights of paradise, so also we would not require the medical art for relief if we were immune to disease, as was the case, by God's gift, at the time of Creation before the Fall.. After our banishment to this place, however, and after we had heard the words: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread,' through prolonged effort and hard labor in tilling the soil we devised the art of agriculture for the alleviation of the miseries which followed the curse, God vouchsafing us the knowledge and understanding of this art. And, when we were commanded to return to the earth whence we had been taken and were united with the pain ridden flesh doomed to destruction because of sin and, for the same reason, also subject to disease, the medical art was given to us to relieve the sick, in some degree at least."

"Now, the herbs which are the specifics for each malady do not grow out of the earth spontaneously; it is evidently the will of the Creator that they should be brought forth out of the soil to serve our need. Therefore, the obtaining of that natural virtue which is in the roots and flowers, leaves, fruits, and juices, or in such metals or products of the sea as are found especially suitable for bodily health, is to be viewed in the same way as the procuring of food and drink. Whatever requires an undue amount of thought or trouble or involves a large expenditure of effort and causes our whole life to revolve, as it were, around solicitude for the flesh must be avoided by Christians. Consequently, we must take great care to employ this medical art, if it should be necessary, not as making it wholly accountable for our state of health or illness, but as redounding to the glory of God and as a parallel to the care given the soul. In the event that medicine should fail to help, we should not place all hope for the relief of our distress in this art, but we should rest assured that He will not allow us to be tried above that which we are able to bear. Just as in those days the Lord sometimes made clay, and anointed, and bade wash in Siloe, and on other occasions was content with the mere command: ‘I will, be thou made clean’ whereas He left some to struggle against their afflictions, rendering them more worthy of reward by trial, so it also is with us. He sometimes cures us secretly and without visible means when He judges this mode of treatment beneficial to our souls; and again He wills that we use material remedies for our ills, either to instil in us by the prolonged nature of the cure an abiding remembrance of the favor received, or, as I have said, to provide an example for the proper care of the soul. As in the case of the flesh it is essential to eliminate foreign elements and add whatever is wanting, so also, where the soul is concerned, it behooves us to rid ourselves of that which is alien to it and take unto ourselves that which is in accordance with its nature; for 'God made man right and He created us for good works that we might walk in them."

"To place the hope of one's health in the hands of the doctor is the act of an irrational animal. This, nevertheless, is what we observe in the case of certain unhappy persons who do not hesitate to call their doctors their saviors. Yet, to reject entirely the benefits to be derived from this art is the sign of a pettish nature."

"When the favor of a cure is granted us, whether by means of wine mixed with oil, as in the case of the man who fell among the robbers, or through figs, as with Ezechias, we are to receive it with thanksgiving. Besides, we shall view the watchful care of God impartially, whether it comes to us from some invisible source or by a physical agency, the latter, indeed, frequently engendering in us a livelier perception of the favor as coming from the hands of God. Very often, also, the diseases which we contracted were for our correction and the painful remedies we were obliged to submit to formed part of the instruction. Right reason dictates, therefore, that we demur neither at cutting nor at burning, nor at the pains caused by bitter and disagreeable medicines, nor at abstinence from food, nor at a strict regimen, nor at being forced to refrain from that which is hurtful. Nevertheless, we should keep as our objective (again I say it), our spiritual benefit, in as much as the care of the soul is being taught in the guise of an analogy. There is no small danger, however, that we will fall into the error of thinking that every kind of suffering requires medical relief. Not all sicknesses for whose treatment we observe medicine to be occasionally beneficial arise from natural causes, whether from faulty diet or from any other physical origin."

"So, then, we should neither repudiate this art altogether nor does it behoove us to repose all our confidence in it; but, just as in practicing the art of agriculture we pray God for the fruits, and as we entrust the helm to the pilot in the art of navigation, but implore God that we may end our voyage unharmed by the perils of the sea, so also, when reason allows, we call in the doctor, but we do not leave off hoping in God. It seems to me, moreover, that the medical art is no small aid to continency."

St. Basil the Great, “Question 55” in “The Long Rules,” St. Basil: Ascetical Works, trans. by M. Monica Wagner, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Vol. 9 (Wash., D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1962), 330-337.  The text of this book is available online in various formats:

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Christian Bioethics in a Post-Christian World"

In April 2011, Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. (Prof. Emeritus, Baylor College of Medicine/ Prof., Rice University), one of the top bioethicists in the world, spoke at a bioethics conference in Houston, TX.  The conference focused on Health Care in a Secular Culture: The Conscience of Physicians & Nurses at Risk.  Dr. Engelhardt presented a paper on Orthodox Christian bioethics entitled, "Christian Bioethics in a Post-Christian World: Facing the Challenges."  I highly recommend this lecture for those who labor in the healthcare field, students preparing for such work, and others interested in the difference between "traditional Christianity" (i.e., the Orthodox Christian Way of Life) and secularism.

The video is also available on Youtube.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Doctor as Renegade" (MN Public Radio)

A great article and video about medical care is available on the Minnesota Public Radio website.  Dr. Susan Rutten Wasson, a physician in private practice, doesn't accept medical insurance.  She does accept cash payment and non-monetary reimbursement from her patients.

In order for Orthodox Christian physicians to provide the best medical care possible according to Orthodox Tradition, they must not allow insurance companies, government reimbursement programs, or secular administrative structures negatively affect the quality of care they offer their patients.  The option of accepting cash reimbursement, but not insurance, is worth considering when constructing a plan to launch an Orthodox Christian medical facility, whether a group or private practice.

Family life and patient care may be simpler and better off the insurance grid.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Attend to Your Own Sickness for Healing

"Our Faith prohibits us to be spies of the sins of others and stresses that we be merciless judges of our own sins. The sick person in the hospital is concerned with his own particular malady so that he has neither the will nor the time to question others who are ill or to mock their illness. Are we not all in this world as patients in a hospital? Does not our own common sense underline that we look at our own illness and not at another's illness? Let no one think that they will be cured of their illness in the other world. This world is merely a hospital and a place for healing and, in that world, there is no hospital; there is only a mansion or only a prison." 

- St. Nicholai of Ziche, The Prologue from Ochrid, April 22nd.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Significance of Sunday for Healing

(The following passage refers to the account of Christ's appearances to his disciples after His Resurrection as recorded in The Gospel of St. John 20.19-29).

"You will see that it was Sunday when the disciples assembled and the Lord came to them.  On Sunday He approached them for the first time as they were gathered together, and eight days later, when Sunday came round again, He appeared to their assembly.  Christ's Church continually reflects these gatherings by holding its meetings mostly on Sunday, and we come among you and preach what pertains to salvation and lead you towards piety and a godly way of life.
     Let no one out of laziness or continuous worldly occupations miss these holy Sunday gatherings, which God Himself handed down to us, lest he be justly abandoned by God and suffer like Thomas, who did not come at the right time.  If you are detained and do not attend on one occasion, make up for it the next time, bringing yourself to Christ's Church.  Otherwise you may remain uncured, suffering from unbelief in your soul because of deeds or words, and failing to approach Christ's surgery to receive, like divine Thomas, holy healing.  There exists not only thoughts and words of faith but also deeds and acts of faith - 'Shew me', it says, 'thy faith by thy works' (cf. Jas. 2:18) - and if someone abandons these and is completely distanced from the Church of Christ and given over wholly to worthless pursuits, his faith is dead, or non-existent, and he himself has become dead through sin." 

St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, edited and translated by Christopher Veniamin, homily 17, "Explaining the Mystery of the Sabbath and of the Lord's Day and Referring to the Gospel of New Sunday" (Waymart: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), 141.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"On Healing" by Met. ANTHONY of Sourozh

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Again and again we hear in the Gospel the story of men or women who were healed of their illnesses, and it seems so simple in the Gospel: there is a need, and God meets it. Why is it then — we ask ourselves — that it does not happen to each of us? Each of us is in need of physical healing and of the healing of our soul. And yet, only a few are healed — why? What we miss in the reading of the Gospel is that Christ did not heal people indiscriminately. One person in a crowd was healed; many who were also sick in body or soul, were not. That comes from the fact that, in order to receive the grace of God, so that it acts in us unto the healing of soul or body, or both, we must be open to God — not to the healing, but to God.

Illness is something which we so often wish to banish from our experience, not only because it hampers our life, not only because it is accompanied by pain, but also — I suspect even more — because it reminds us of our frailty, it speaks to us of our mortality. Our body at this moment says to us: You have no power to restore me to health, you can do nothing, I may die on you, I may decay and it will be the end of your earthly life. Isn't that the main reason why we fight for health, we pray for health? And yet, if that is the way in which we ask God to heal us, to restore us to wholeness, we are only asking to be allowed to forget that we are mortal. Instead of being reminded, indeed quickened by this thought, realising that days pass, that time grows short, and that we must — if we want to attain the full stature to which we are called on earth — we must make haste to shake off all that within us is the power of death. Illness and death are not only conditioned by exterior reasons; there are within us resentments, bitterness, hatred, greed — so many other things which kill the quickness of the spirit and prevent us from living now, already now, in eternal life — that eternal life which is just 'Life' in the true sense of the word, life in its fullness.

What can we do then? We must ask ourselves attentive questions, and when we come to God asking Him to heal us, we must first prepare ourselves to be healed. To be healed means not just to be made whole with a view to going back to the kind of life which we had before, it means being made whole in order to start a new life, as though we had become aware that we had died in the healing act of God, aware that all that was the old man in us, this body of corruption of which St. Paul speaks, must go in order for the new man to live. We must be prepared to become that new man through the death of the past in order to start anew like Lazarus who was called out of the grave, not to go back simply to what had been his life before, but having experienced something which is beyond utterance, to re-enter life on new terms. And for us, these terms are Christ, as Paul puts it, 'For me to live — is Christ'.

Are we capable of receiving healing? Are we willing to take upon ourselves the responsibility of being made new in order to enter, again and again, into the world in which we live, with a message of newness — to be light, to be salt, to be joy, to be hope and faith and love, to be surrendered to God.

Let us reflect on it, because we all are sick in one way or another; we all are frail, all are weak, all are incapable of living to the full, even the life which is offered us on earth. Let us reflect on it, and become capable of opening ourselves to God in such a way that He may work His miracle of healing, make us new — but in order for us to bring our newness, indeed God's newness, into the world in which we live. Amen.  
This homily, preach on 7/23/1990 is found on the Metropolitan Anthony Library website.  The photo is from the same source.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ancient Christian Wisdom & Cognitive Therapy

Fr. Alexis (Trader) of the Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos has written a book entitled, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Becks Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of the Minds, available at  Secular psychology and Orthodox theology are ultimately incompatible. (You may read a previous article on "Theology and the Limitations of Psychology.")  Nevertheless, one should not be surprised when concepts or practical techniques developed within the realm secular psychology reflect the insights of the Fathers that have been passed down within the Orthodox Church over the past two thousand years.  

The introduction to the text, "Speech and Reason: Timeless Truth and Secular Echos," has been posted on the Orthodox Christian Information Center website. The books 9th chapter, "Cultivating the Garden of the Heart: Patristic Counsel and Cognitive Techniques for Schema Reconstruction," is available as a pdf document.

Fr. Alexis has written a four-part article regarding his book.  These may be found on four different blogs.  The first part appears on Mystagogy.  The second part appears on Second Terrace.  The third part  appears on the voice of stefan.  The fourth part appears on biblicalia.